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Sylmar Receives City Sanctions Over Violation

September 11, 1993|STEVE ELLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Sylmar High football program has been placed on probation for the remainder of the season and forced to forgo two practice sessions for holding an unauthorized team meeting on Labor Day.

City Section Commissioner Hal Harkness said Friday that any further unauthorized meetings could result in "major action" against the Sylmar program, which will be barred from practicing Monday and on Sept. 27.

Sylmar, the defending City 4-A Division champion and the ninth-ranked team in the state, improperly held a team meeting at school on Labor Day. City schools were notified in writing over the summer that contact between players and coaches was forbidden over the holiday weekend.

Harkness said the City athletics office has strengthened its resolve with respect to rules enforcement and that future violations will be met with similar sanctions.

"If they're trying to take a tighter rein, then I have no problem with the ruling," said Sylmar Principal Linda Ambro, who reprimanded Coach Jeff Engilman earlier in the week. "As long as it's a consistent policy."

The Sylmar team meeting was captured on videotape by a Kennedy assistant, who was acting on a tip that Sylmar was staging an unauthorized practice. The 26-minute tape reportedly was filmed over a 2 1/2-hour period and includes footage of Sylmar players lifting weights. The coaching staff also is present.

"At the very least, they took part in conditioning that none of the other schools presumably had the opportunity to do on Monday," Harkness said.

Engilman, who has maintained that the meeting was called to distribute team uniforms, was glad the matter was resolved but displeased with the sanctions. He said he thought practices, not team meetings, were prohibited.

"I don't like it, but what am I going to do?" Engilman said. "It's over and done with. It was a mistake, and I'll take the punishment like a big boy."

Kennedy Coach Bob Francola felt vindicated by the ruling. Kennedy, he said, had been vilified by many for documenting the violation. Francola also was stung by Ambro's initial statement that Kennedy assistant Tom Sams' taping of the meeting was "laughable."

"It's not a joke anymore," Francola said. "Their principal's attitude has dramatically changed."

Based on feedback from the videotape incident, Harkness said there is a growing perception that the Sylmar program is operating without checks and balances. Harkness said that area coaches contacted him throughout the week to express their concern that the Sylmar program has lost its sense of perspective.

"The reality is that he's up there in the hinterlands, that it's a secluded program," Harkness said. "It's time that school administrators, when they see a team out there at an inappropriate time, step forward and ask why."

Sylmar isn't out of administrative hot water, however. Harkness expressed additional concern over a published report that appeared Friday in which Engilman discussed the length of team practices.

Engilman was quoted as saying: "Sometimes, we're out here until 8:30 (p.m.)."

City teams are prohibited from practicing under stadium lights, a rule that was instituted several years ago to ensure that schools without lighted fields are not disadvantaged.

Harkness said he asked Ambro to question Engilman about the length of his practice sessions. If the report is accurate, Harkness will take no additional disciplinary action but will issue a "cease-and-desist" order.

According to Engilman, the story contained several factual inaccuracies and the quote was taken out of context.

"I could have been referring to summer workouts," Engilman said.

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